Sunday, January 15th – They say that you have to put in the work to get your reward, which has been very true for our group of 13 students who are now two weeks into a three-week tour of south-east Queensland, Australia. After a busy week filled with guest lectures, article discussions, and field excursions from our University of the Sunshine Coast base, our outstanding “mates” – professors Jeff and Courtney, gave us a full day off to regroup and recharge before the travel yet to come. Given the current heat wave (and super high humidity) on the Sunny Coast, most of us welcomed the opportunity to head to the nearby beach to cool off a bit in the surf, though not before catching a little extra sleep before starting our days.
The swimming was great, and an adventurous few even tried their hand at something not possible in Wyoming: surfing! Suffice it to say, none of us will be on the professional circuit any time soon but a few did manage to stand on the board and start to get a feel for the sport. Some students soaked up a little more sun than they maybe should have and came away with some sunburn. The sun’s UV rays are particularly strong in this part of world due to the ozone layer being particular thin overhead and you see reminders everywhere to “slip, slop, and slap” – slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat… we’re learning slowly but surely. After the beach, most of us grabbed a bite to eat at the ‘best fish and chips on Alex Head’ (short for Alexandra Beach and Headlands, location of the surf break we visited) and afterwards walked the beachfront streets, seeking a few more souvenirs and gifts to take back to the States with us.
Spending time on a subtropical ocean coast (the Coral Sea no less) has been a truly unique experience for our group. Even on our day off, I believe we all were impressed by how magnificent the ocean landscape is, further informing our own ideas of what “landscape” is really all about. Coming from the US Mountain West, landscape for us is often times defined as rolling prairies and mountains, but getting to observe the ocean in a different part of the world really helps to broaden our viewpoints.
In the last three days, we’ve spent time at two quite different beach areas on the Sunshine Coast: the beaches of Mooloolaba and Alexandra Head, near the “uni”, and the internationally known Noosa Beach area about an hour north of here. To me, the Mooloolaba / Alexandra coastline seemed much more developed than Noosa. I say this because of the presence of many high-rise beachfront condominiums and apartment-style hotels, as well as the location of the main local road right on the bluffs above the water. Noosa is developed too, but in different ways. While the main street near the beach – Hastings Street – is clogged with cars and pedestrians, there are also height restrictions on buildings near the water and development just seems to blend in better with the surrounding environment. It also helps that most of the Noosa Headlands is designated as a national park, as are the long stretches of more remote sandy beaches just to the north of the Noosa River. This leads me to think that the Noosa landscape may support sustainability practices in a wider variety of ways than the Sunshine Coast to the south, but it’s difficult to say for sure without more information.
After our time at the beach, we used the afternoon in a bit more practical way, catching up on laundry and our academic and personal journals back at the Varsity Apartments on the University of the Sunshine Coast campus. It’s been great to stay at the university apartments, as it has given us the opportunity to meet and hang out with some of the other apartment residents, many of whom are from places other than Australia as well. Sunday evening a few of our new friends took us for a “short” hike to Kondallila Falls, which involved a trek in the rain through a rainforest (go figure!), complete with misty vistas and a few leeches just to add to the experience. Quite the contrast from the morning’s beach outing, but memorable nevertheless.
Our “Sunday Funday” was a great last opportunity to immerse ourselves further into the culture of the Sunshine Coast area through beach visits and surfing and a great hike with some local students. Feeling rejuvenated, we are all in good spirits and looking forward to our last week in Australia as we head north to Fraser Island.